Teacher to be sentenced for sexual grooming

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The Independent Online

A supply teacher at a private all-girls school who was found guilty of sexually grooming one of his teenage pupils after she developed a crush on him will be sentenced today.

John Cope, 44, exchanged flirty messages and chatted online and on the phone with the girl while he was an IT teacher at Brighton and Hove High School in East Sussex.

During a four-day trial at Lewes Crown Court last December, jurors heard their topics included oral sex, the loss of Cope's virginity at the age of 15 and flavoured condoms.

Cope, of Stow Road, Ixworth, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, was convicted of sexual grooming but cleared of two counts of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity between January and May 2008.

In one text, the girl told Cope about the need for her to lose weight, to which he replied: "We can find another way for you to burn calories."

The exchanges started when the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, confided in him that she "fancied someone she shouldn't" and he guessed she meant him.

Instead of behaving responsibly, he actively encouraged her and told the girl that he felt the same way about her, jurors heard.

He gave her his mobile phone number, which she stored under the name Fred, and told her to delete any texts he sent her.

Prosecutors said Cope abused the trust placed in him to form a relationship with the girl, which he intended to lead to sex between them.

However, their relationship never developed into a sexual one as the girl's mother found out about their contact after reading a text message she received late at night out of curiosity.

Shocked at its content, she confronted her daughter who insisted Fred was a boy she had met in Essex, but her parents established he was in fact a teacher at her school.

They called police who analysed both Cope and the girl's phones, and he was sacked following his arrest in May 2008 after being employed at the school through an agency.

Cope, who gained an IT degree from Anglia Polytechnic University and an MBA from the University of Brighton, said in his defence that he only wanted to help the girl through a troubled phase and denied planning to groom her as a future sexual partner.

He said he could offer no explanation why he exchanged risque text messages with her, but admitted he should have cut contact with her sooner.

Cope, who has been banned from working with children, is on bail.